Thursday, August 25, 2011

On target groups

We've already seen a couple of days of frantic media speculation as to who might succeed Jack Layton as the NDP's permanent leader, and I'll add my own list of possibilities before too long. But before considering who might run, it's worth taking a broader view of what the NDP should hope to accomplish during the course of a leadership race.

After all, this year's electoral breakthrough has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the party in seeking new members and supporters. And to my mind, the twin goals of the leadership voting process should be:
- to make sure that each of the key target groups is pursued by one or more credible leadership contenders; and
- to unite the new-found members under the NDP banner following the leadership race no matter who emerges victorious.

So what constituencies should the party's leadership candidates be looking to tap in assembling their coalitions? Here's my list for now...


Obviously one of the main priorities for the NDP is to translate its unprecedented vote and seat count in Quebec into broader support within the province. And that priority dovetails nicely with the possibility that a leadership candidate who can sign up new members to match the party's seat count could enjoy a huge advantage in the leadership race as a result.

Rural Voters

But a leadership candidate can also find plenty of support by looking to the party's rural roots - based on both the large number of members and donors still found in the West, and the prospect that more new members can be found as voters tire of the Cons and come to see the NDP as the leading alternative.


At the same time, the Cons' disturbing pattern of anti-evidence decision-making - combined with the Libs' decline as a default choice - leaves the door wide open for the NDP to add better-educated voters to its set of core constituencies. And the leadership race offers an ideal opportunity to begin that process.

Ethnic Communities

While the Cons and Jason Kenney have received far more attention for their inroads into immigrant and ethnic communities, the NDP has managed to win plenty of votes and at least a few seats with its own outreach efforts. But a leadership race will hopefully see plenty more communities brought into the NDP's tent.

Young Voters

Until this year's election, voting preferences among younger Canadians were strikingly different than those among older ones, with young adults supporting the Cons, Libs, NDP and Greens in something close to equal proportions. The NDP managed to gain an edge in this group thanks to Layton's message of optimism and hope - and its leadership contenders should work on reaching out to enough younger voters to lock in that advantage.

Labour & Working Class Voters

Finally, there's no particular doubt that the NDP will have the support of unions in elections to come. But it should be looking for every opportunity to build workers' interest in political participation - and the leadership race serves as a chance to extend greater involvement much deeper into Canada's current union ranks, as well as among individual workers.

Of course, the above list isn't to say that a separate leadership candidate should cater to each group - nor that any single acceptable candidate has to have specific appeal to all of them. And of course there's a separate need for diversity in gender, geography, etc. which will hopefully be reflected in the final list of candidates.

But the above looks to me to identify the key demographic groups which offer the greatest opportunity for both any leadership candidate and the NDP as a whole to build support. And I'll be measuring the success of the NDP's leadership race by how each of these constituent parts of the party's coalition sees itself reflected in the race.

Keep watching this space for a survey of the issues which I'd think will similarly demand attention during the course of the NDP's leadership contest - to be followed by a look at which candidates and combinations thereof offer the best prospect of meeting each of the goals.


  1. Malcolm+1:41 p.m.

    The timing of Jack's death was tragic at a number of levels, of course.  One aspect not much discussed yet is that Jack dies before most of the 58 new and largely unknown Quebec MPs had any opportunity to show what they were made of.  It is regretable that New Democrats may miss one or more of the most promising successors to Jack Layton simply due to unfortunate timing.

  2. jurist5:06 p.m.

    I'd certainly hope that doesn't prove to be the case. But I'd also think the leadership race will offer an opportunity for contenders to show what they're made of even if they haven't yet - and it doesn't seem impossible that we could see another Quebec MP or two beyond Mulcair make a strong run.